The Moment That Changed Everything

My first car was a 1978 AMC Concord DL (DL for DeeLuxe!)  For those unfamiliar with the AMC Concord, it was a small car, a compact, but it was a bit of a beast.  I think the bodies were made out of cast iron.

The mighty AMC Concord DL

But the thing that my particular AMC Concord DL was known for, besides terrible mileage, was the broken cassette tape player.  You see, I had, one day, put a cassette into the player, and something mechanical inside broke…and the ejection button no longer worked.  This cassette was now permanently lodged into the player.  And the player was stuck then, in “cassette” mode.  It couldn’t be switched to radio without ejecting the tape, which was no longer possible.  I looked into fixing it, but it was going to cost about $1000.  I decided I could live with it.

AThe cassette that took up permanent residency in my car’s tape player?  It was “The Collection,” by Amy Grant.

For the rest of the life of that car, probably another 3 years or so, I had only two choices:  I could listen to Amy Grant’s The Collection…or I could sit in silence.  That was it.  For 3 years, I listened to Amy Grant, and nothing but Amy Grant while driving.  3 years.

Here is a truth:  when you see or hear something over and over again…when it keeps repeating…our mind learns to tune it out, like so much background noise. 

When we hear stories again and again…when they are repeated…we kind of stop listening, don’t we?  We don’t hear them anymore.  It doesn’t matter if it is a story from a grandparent that keeps getting re-told…or a Dad joke that gets used and used again (I may be guilty of that).  When we hear something enough times, our eyes kind of glaze over, and we tune out.  

So, I wonder if this isn’t just a bit of what the disciples experienced in the days after Jesus was crucified.  Because they had been down this road before.  Jesus was not the first person to ever have been crucified.  Far from it.  Crucifixion was a common way for the Roman Empire to rid themselves of thieves, revolutionaries, and troublemakers.  In fact, Rome had been using crucifixion for over 300 years prior to Jesus.  

Jesus wasn’t even the only crucifixion on this particular day.  There were two others who were crucified alongside of him.  

For the Jewish people to look up and to see men dying on crosses in the distance was not uncommon.  In fact, the Romans did crucifixions on this tall hill called Golgotha because it was visible to so much of Jerusalem.  It served as a warning to the Jewish people.  Don’t mess with us!

So, when Jesus was crucified…when he died…and when he was laid in the tomb…the response of the disciples and rest of his Jewish followers?  They felt defeated. “We know the end of this story!” 

And the women who went to the tomb that morning; the scriptures say that they brought spices with them.  Spices were used to preserve the body.  They were a part of the embalming process.  Those women didn’t go to the tomb to see if Jesus had been resurrected…they went there because they assumed that he hadn’t.

They had seen crucifixions so many times, and they knew the inevitable outcome.  Like a tape, running on a continuous loop, they had seen the trials…the verdict…the punishment…and the death…the trials…the verdict…the punishment…and the death.

They had seen it so many times that they had become numb to it.  They couldn’t conceive of a different outcome.  Given their history, you can’t really blame them.

But on that morning, 3 days after Jesus’ crucifixion, Something happened. When the women got to the tomb, there were these strange men in the tomb…men who appeared with “dazzling brightness.”  And they asked a startling question: “why do you look for the living, among the dead?”   The Gospel says that the women were first “perplexed.”  Then, they were “terrified.”  And then it clicked.  In that moment… those woman realized what was really happening, and that this promise Jesus had made was coming true…and in an instant, everything changed!  

They women ran, full speed back to the other disciples, who didn’t believe them.  The scriptures tell us that Peter, James, John and the rest, the assumed the women were telling them an “idle tale.”  And then when Peter did go and look…Luke says that he was “amazed.”

And Jesus’ followers realized:

  • Jesus was alive!  He had to be!
  • It was true.  Everything Jesus had promised was true!
  • There was to be a future…the future Jesus promised.

And in that moment their broken hearts were healed, and their faith restored.

And 2,000 years later, on this Easter Sunday, when we hear this story, we are reminded that out of death…comes resurrection.  Out of death…comes resurrection.

The Rev. Carla Pratt Keyes wrote recently about Bryan Stevenson. Stevenson is a lawyer, best known for his work with black men on death row.  His book, Just Mercy, was made into a movie not long ago.  It is, by the way, a great movie.  

Stevenson helped found the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama.  In this museum, one of the exhibits is a memorial that features jars of soil, dug from the ground at places where Black people were lynched in the 1800’s and early 1900’s.  Most of the victims of lynching had never received a proper burial.  But this soil where the crime took place, it contains their sweat, their blood, and their tears.  And to see all the rows of jars, lined up…It is a powerful memorial to innocent people whose lives were unjustly taken from them.

Stevenson wrote about a middle-aged Black woman, a researcher, who worked for the museum.  Her work was to locate the sites where these horrific crimes had taken place, and to collect the soil that would go in the jars of the memorial.  She had identified one site that was in a remote location in Alabama.  She drove there. When she arrived, she felt…anxious.  She was out on a dirt road, in the middle of nowhere, all by herself.  She began to dig up the soil.  Suddenly, a truck trove by.  A large, white man was staring at her from the cab.  A bit down the road, the truck slowed, stopped, turned around and drove back.  The man parked his truck and walked toward her.  Now she was really scared.  

“What are you doing?” he asked.  She was thinking she’d tell him she was just gathering dirt for a garden, but then something got ahold of her.  She said, “I’m digging soil, because this is where a Black man was lynched in 1937 and I’m going to honor his life today.”  

The man saw a paper on the ground near the woman.  He said “Does that paper talk about the lynching? Could I read it?”  And he did.  Then he shocked her by saying, “Excuse me ma’am…would it be all right if I helped you?”

He got down on his knees next to her.  She offered him the shovel.  He said, “No, no, I’ll just use my hands.”  And he started to dig the earth with his hands.  His hands became black with soil.

There was something about the conviction with which he was digging that moved the woman, and a tear rolled down her face.  He saw it and said, “I’m so sorry, I’m upsetting you!”  She said, “No, no.  You’re blessing me.”  The man’s digging had slowed, and she realized he was crying too.  She asked, “are you alright?” and he said, “No ma’am.  I’m just so worried that it might have been my grandfather that helped to lynch this man.”  

They sat together, in that field…at the side of that road…just weeping.  Then they finished filling the jar with soil.  The man said, “I’d like to take a picture of you holding the jar.”  She said the same.  So, they took pictures of one another.  Then they got in their cars, and the man followed her back to the museum; they delivered the soil together.”

Out of this encounter…out of this place of death…out of these handfuls of dirt…came healing…and redemption…and reconciliation…and forgiveness.  A hurting woman…and a hurting man… strangers… were drawn together and their spirits…their souls…were healed.  This is what resurrection looks like!

The story of Jesus’ death could have been just another crucifixion story…another among many.  We hear stories of death all the time.  Just look at the news.  Sometimes it just feels like a tape on a continuous loop.  We hear so many…we can tune it out…forget about it…like so much background noise.

But then came the resurrection!  And in that instant, everything changed!

God reminds us today that Jesus Christ is alive and at work in the world!  We all carry something.  It may be grief…or anger…or sorrow…or frustration…or broken relationships…maybe it’s memories of loved ones lost, or regret about things we have not done, or pain…all of us. Every single one of us.  We all carry something!

But whatever it is…the promise of Easter is that God can transform it!  God can redeem it! God can heal it!

Jesus Christ is alive and at work even now.  Because of the resurrection, death does not have the last word!  Because of Jesus, you will find:

  • Wholeness out of brokenness
  • Freedom out of oppression
  • Love out of hate; and 
  • Life out of death.

This is Jesus’ story.  This is our story.  This is your story!  Yes, you have heard it before, and yes, you will hear it again.  But resist the temptation to let it simply become background noise.  Because of Jesus, this is a story that brings life.  It draws us in.  It reminds of God’s great love. It is a story we cannot ignore…that we cannot forget.  

Hear the Easter story.  Again, and again.  Let it wash over you.  And be transformed…restored and healed.  Jesus’ resurrection…it is good news for you, today…and every day.  

Thanks be to God

Amen.

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